Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What's Cooking?

We have our play kitchen ready at the store - always a favorite place to spend an hour. It's wonderful to watch kids turn on their imaginations when they immerse themselves in pretending to prepare dinner, bake cupcakes, or just stir something interesting up. They're not following the script from a movie or cartoon, but they are remembering and reinterpreting things that have happened in their own lives, and using that to create. To see that flame get lit is one of the joys of education, and having it in the store every day is inspirational.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Are We Crazy?

One of my broken record themes is the death of kindergarten. It's one of the saddest things about modern education. Kids are having kindergarten stolen away from them, and though it's happening right in front of us, everyone just throws up their hands and says "what can you do?"
This week, I had two kindergarten parents in, one looking for sight word flash cards, the other for addition flash cards. They both lamented the idea that their child needed rote memorization work, but both also said the children were being graded on their academic performance, they had no choice.
I told them my stock story (which is true) about the pediatrician who told us the number of kindergartners with stomach problems was epidemic. They didn't doubt it, but told me over and over that they had no choice.
We do have a choice. Kindergartners should be studying fingerpainting, singing and playing Duck Duck Goose. We keep slipping farther behind the rest of the world in education. Other cultures don't insist on ruining childhood for the sake of bragging rights about who can read at the youngest age. It's a sad world we're building, and insisting we have no choice is pathetic.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

We're Ready!

Despite the the advice from wise heads, I went ahead with our store make-over, just as we were trying to get ready for our busy holiday season. The good news is it worked! We did have our share of bumps and bothers - and there are still a few things to work out. The change was a success, and as our new classroom comes together I think we will be ready to offer our community a much better education resource.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Punkin' Patch by Andy Z & The Beeheads

Our friend Andy Z has a new video!

He'll be appearing at The Golden Apple on Neighborhood Toy Store Day, November 13th

Monday, October 25, 2010

We're remodeling!

If you are a fan of our Facebook page, you might have noticed that we have been doing a make-over on our store. It's fun, sometimes, to shake everything up - and this change will make it so much easier to find the things you came to the Golden Apple to find! We started with new (used) fixtures from Borders in SF:

We started moving things in last week:

And we finished up the left half of the store on Saturday:

This week we're working on the right side - gearing up for Neighborhood Toy Store Day on November 13th. Stop in and see the changes, you'll be impressed!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Better Schools, Better Teachers?

Bill Ayers takes on the common wisdom that the problem with schools is the teachers:

Back to School: An Interview With Bill Ayers
Friday 01 October 2010
by: Maya Schenwar, Executive Director, t r u t h o u t | Interview

Monday, September 27, 2010

10 More Years!

A wonderful thing about being in our 4th decade is it gives us confidence. Yes, the economy is rough, and teacher stores are'nt fairing very well in general, but we've seen some of this before, and like a shark, you keep swimming or you sink.

It's easy to divide our business into decades, because we sign a 10 year lease. We just signed up again, and that decision generates ideas and thoughts on how we can improve. During the month of October, be prepared to see some dust, because we will be remodeling and rearranging our store to get ready for the next decade! I'll be creating a photo gallery and video gallery documenting the changes, and we'll let you know what these excitng changes will mean to you...

A Longer School Year?

President Obama has called for a longer school year, and increasing teacher pay.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bring in the Fun, Bring in the Toyz

Seasons change fast, and the gap between Back-To-School and Toy Season is now non-existent. As we have increased our toy selection, we've found that our old way of waiting till the 1st of October doesn't fly. Many of the toy orders get booked in February, so stores are sure to have inventory in November. If we waited, customers wouldn't see the best and the newest on our shelves. We did place our orders, but we put a delivery date of September on them, so we wouldn't be up to our ears in both teachers and toys. Guess what? It's September - and the huge boxes (toys come in HUGE boxes) are arriving every day, and we are scrambling to find homes for things. Magformers came last week. The new Construction and Emergency sets are very exciting. Move over Plan Books!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Educational Trends - Sweet!

In case you were wondering what the trend for Back to School this year is - and aren't teachers are always the fashionistas? It was Chocolate Dots! Make of it what you will!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Annual Rep Day August 11th

The quiet sounds coming from our blog are due to Rep Day IX - the biggest day of the year for us, and most likely the biggest day for Teacher Stores anywhere on the planet! Cool weather will keep the store from boiling over with excitement - but don't let that discourage you - rep day is fun! Details can be found on our Teacher Page. Doors open at 10am. You'll love it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

You Get What You Pay For!

The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers

Published: July 27, 2010
A new study found students with better teachers learned more in kindergarten — and earned more as young adults.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rocks are Dangerous!

Students Aren't Allowed To Touch Real Rocks
Lenore Skenazy,
How the Consumer Product Safety Commission drives parents--and everyone else--crazy.

Michael Warring, president of American Educational Products in Fort Collins, Colo., had his shipment all ready: A school's worth of small bags, each one filled with an igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock. Then the school canceled its order. Says Warring, "They apparently decided rocks could be harmful to children."
>Read the Article

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why do Finland's schools get the best results?

Finnish Schools

Children in Finland only start main school at age seven. The idea is that before then they learn best when they're playing and by the time they finally get to school they are keen to start learning.

They don't start until they're 7? Shocking!

Cycle Saturdays at the Golden Apple

We just celebrated 10 years in our current location. Not by coincidence, it is also 10 years since I gave up driving and switched to bike-riding for all my transportation (with help from the BART train). I'm a convert, and I have the zealotry of converts of all stripes; I can't believe I was ever addicted to driving, and I can't believe that others don't stop driving as soon as possible!
I'm aware that non-stop preaching is tedious, so I mostly keep my bike life-style to myself, or I try to, but it just pops out because, well, don't get me started...
I do believe that once people try getting around by bike, they will find they like it. I also believe that as more people try it, every day bike riding will gain momentum, and the streets will get friendlier for everyone. I have been quietly slipping bike things into the Golden Apple - Balance Bikes, books about bikes, and anything more we can do to encourage kids to start down the alternative transportation path.
This summer, we're adding Cycle Saturdays. Ride your bike to the Golden Apple and do your shopping and we'll take 10% off your total. It's a fun way to get around, and if you have a good basket, you can load up on toys and save! This little step isn't going to turn Pleasanton into Copenhagen, but every evangelist knows conversion starts with small steps!
So pedal in soon!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Zoobies are cute!

I'm getting better at cute. I'm pretty good at toys like the Faux Bow, or Mindware Contraptions, they're toys I would have loved, and I love to show them off. When the cute Carolle dolls come in, or Calico Critters, I admire them, but I don't always understand the attraction. Zoobies are cute. They are cute when they're in stuffed animal form, and they're cute when they are spread out like a blanket. I love toys I understand!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Creativity Crisis

Newsweek has a great article about declining creativity in the US. One interesting point:

"In early childhood, distinct types of free play are associated with high creativity. Preschoolers who spend more time in role-play (acting out characters) have higher measures of creativity: voicing someone else’s point of view helps develop their ability to analyze situations from different perspectives. When playing alone, highly creative first graders may act out strong negative emotions: they’ll be angry, hostile, anguished. The hypothesis is that play is a safe harbor to work through forbidden thoughts and emotions."

Now how do test for this?

This Blog is not Abandoned

Ok, so the posting has been light this month! Here come the excuse:
We had our 10th anniversary in the Gateway Square on July 8th. This was an occasion for celebration, prizes and most importantly, a new lease! We're staying put, most likely. Moving isn't fun, and we have loyal customers that like where we are just fine. Changing things around though is part of the process - so that's where all the work has gone: how can we make the Golden Apple better?
Don't be surprised if you see a few Under Construction signs posted around parts of the Golden Apple over the next few months. We aren't giving away any surprises yet, but wait and see!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

It's Summer, Things Heat Up

Believe it or not, while everyone's taking it slow, we're starting to get busy! I just returned from the ASTRA toy show in Providence, putting the final touches on our holiday toy selection. As soon as I got back to the store, I had to buckle down to getting all the back-to-school orders done - keeps me young this back and forth from toys to school supplies! On top of it, the on-the-ball toy companies ship the new items we ordered in Providence likity-split, meaning boxes are arriving before we've unpacked our luggage.
I'll be writing about a few of the new things on their way. One company I'm excited about is Lego Architect. Kits to build classic American designs like the Seattle Space Needle, Falling Water house and the Guggenhiem Museum. The kits arrived today, and they are cool!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Spot-It from Blue Orange Games

Our local friends Blue Orange Games have a new game - Spot It
I think it will be perfect to carry along this summer!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Frankly, Frannie Doggy Day Care

I was an entrepreneur kid. I sold walnuts door to door. I painted curbs, I worked in the student cafeteria (free food is a big motivator for me). I like Frannie's drive. She wants a job - she is ready to try anything. We need a kid like this to work at the store!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Summer Reading Lists

I'm working on posting our Summer Reading Lists this week. It's a happy chore, although I'm always tempted to just fall back on the old classics -Homer Price was good 20 years ago, and it's still a pretty good read today! But kids want new, or at least we think they do. I always look forward to sending someone off with Half Magic by Edward Eager or even Treasure Island if I can get them enthused enough. This year the Golden Apple staff put in the extra effort to create a solid list - books we have read and would recommend. It is still being pushed and pulled, but follow its progress and feel free to add your own favorite summer read!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Toy that Time Forgot

Let's talk about toys for a change! We have a "brand new" item at the Golden Apple that has been sitting on our counter for about a month. It's truly magical - no batteries, barely any moving parts, but the kids find it hypnotic. I don't even really know what the name of the toy is - we tell kids it was the Gameboy of past generations. It's a water-filled tube (you add the water - it is NOT filled with imported Chinese water) that has mysterious floating balls inside. When you push the button, the balls drift through the liquid and you try to capture them in (in this case) the pelican's bills. You know what I'm talking about. The amazing thing about this toy is - it's new to kids! They can't stop playing with it. In a 3d Avatar, Ipad world, this thing just seems full of wonder. Imagine that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pleasanton Kids Test Well - Success!

My local electronic fish-wrap has thrilling news:

Twelve out of the 15 schools in the Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) are in the top 10 percent of schools statewide, according to API (Academic Performance Index)statistics released Friday from the California Department of Education.

Bubbled answers to the challenges of the future will be nothing to these kids, as long as they don't involve music, art, critical thinking, imagination, history, hands-on learning, etc...!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yesterdays Technology - Today!

It has come to my attention that someone has invented an "interactive" whiteboard! In fact, the School Supply industry, such as it is, is all abuzz about this new technology and its potential to revolutionize the classroom. Humbug is what I say. At least I'm not alone:

I am sure a number of readers saw this column's title and groaned. You thought you were just getting ahead of the curve by working towards installing interactive whiteboards in your classrooms, and here I am telling you that they are going away.

Meeks, Glenn "Goodbye Interactive Whiteboard." School Planning & Management 12 Dec. 2009 December ed. : 13

My usual complaint is that while technology has many applications in education, its pretty shiny qualities should make educators grab their wallets with both hands. Interactive whiteboard technology has that, built-in obsolescence and a high price tag, all in one package. Good thing you can write on them, they'll work as plain whiteboards once they're unplugged and moved to the back corner of the classroom. When schools invest big money in a technology that is so obviously not going to be part of the future, it robs funds from real education. The IWB needs software, and training. The software and training will lag behind more dynamic platforms (here comes the IPad!) and soon, no-one will bother. Software companies will have moved on, educators interested in tech will have moved on and these pretty things will have lost all their usefulness. Bookmark this post and see if I'm wrong.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Race to Nowhere

A screening will be held at St Elizabeth Seton Church on May 18th in Pleasanton.

Director Vicki Abeles turns the personal political, igniting a national conversation in her new documentary about the pressures faced by American schoolchildren and their teachers in our achievement obsessed public and private education system and culture. Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

More information about the film can be found at their website!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Summer Book Wars Heat Up

It's April - and the endgame has started - parents are starting to ponder the summer brain drain. Keeping kids busy, and keeping minds active during the summer is made even harder this year - many schools in our area have cancelled Summer School. The Golden Apple has offered Summer Bridge books for about 10 years. These books offer a great day to day plan that helps parents keep kids on track. They've updated the books this year, making them more challenging, but also raising the price $1 to $14.95. The books are still a bargain, considering how effective they are at keeping kids skills sharp all summer. This year, they have some competition. Teacher Created Resources, one of our top publishers has published their own book, Summertime Learning. We're very excited about this new entry for a number of reasons. Summertime Learning has a similar schedule, workload and subject area range. It has much better reward stickers and retails for only $9.99! Either book is a great way to keep minds active. For more about these books visit our page devoted to Summer Workbooks. We'll be adding summer reading lists and a wonderful resource guide written by our in-house master teacher Gayla Peek very soon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

You Mean Phonics Alone Doesn't Work?

Many years ago we did reading workshops for parents and teachers at our store. The presenter, Dolores Hiskes, had the participants read a phonetic passage in a foreign language. Everyone carefully sounded out the words, which were broken into syllables. After everyone read the passage, perfectly, she asked us what it meant. Guess what - phonetic decoding isn't reading!

Progress stalls on NAEP
The Christian Science Monitor reports that for the first time since 2003, America's fourth-graders made no improvement in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the "nation's report card." Achievement gaps between whites and blacks, whites and Hispanics, boys and girls, public and private school students, and low-income students and their middle- or upper-income peers also remained unchanged, compared with 2007 and with 1992, when NAEP was first administered. Overall, "we've stopped making gains, we've stopped closing gaps... the last thing we need right now is an educational recession," says Amy Wilkins, vice-president of the Education Trust, which works to close achievement and opportunity gaps. One "glimmer of hope," The Monitor says, is that individual states have succeeded in whittling both racial and income-based achievement gaps. Still, "anybody paying attention over the past eight years" to NCLB's implementation should not be surprised, writes Valerie Strauss on The Answer Sheet blog of The Washington Post. At its heart, NCLB supported specific approaches to literacy instruction that emphasized explicit phonics instruction and didn't do enough to foster comprehension. Reading experts warned that the program would fail, according to Strauss, but the Bush administration didn't listen.
Read more: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0324/US-report-card-on-reading-8th-graders-gain-4th-graders-don-t
Related: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/reading/naep-reading-scores-bad-news-w.html
See the results: http://nationsreportcard.gov/reading_2009/

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Educator Joins the Chorus

From today's Times

I'm starting to turn this blog into a collection of anti-education policy articles from the NY Times, but the drum beat is getting stronger. Here's a bit from today's installment:

Among the topics on which Dr. Ravitch has reversed her views is the main federal law on public schools, No Child Left Behind, which is up for a rewrite in coming weeks in Congress. She once supported it, but now says its requirements for testing in math and reading have squeezed vital subjects like history and art out of classrooms.

Do you think?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time to Dump Standards?

I love trend spotting, and especially trends that go my way. In the past two weeks the NYTimes editorial page has featured opinion pieces that illustrate how wrong the current obsession with teaching to standards is, and how much harm it's doing to education. I hope this trend gains momentum - exciting and relevant teaching is what makes it all worthwhile, not making sure 22 24 26 28 kids can pass the same test!

Where the Bar Ought to Be
Published: February 23, 2010
In Harlem, an educator is expecting the best, not the worst, from students at her charter schools.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Are We Teaching?

Susan Engel writes in the New York Times:
Imagine, for instance, a third-grade classroom that was free of the laundry list of goals currently harnessing our teachers and students, and that was devoted instead to just a few narrowly defined and deeply focused goals.

In this classroom, children would spend two hours each day hearing stories read aloud, reading aloud themselves, telling stories to one another and reading on their own. After all, the first step to literacy is simply being immersed, through conversation and storytelling, in a reading environment; the second is to read a lot and often. A school day where every child is given ample opportunities to read and discuss books would give teachers more time to help those students who need more instruction in order to become good readers.

Imagine an educational system that emphasized something other than testing! Might a literature-based classroom even save money, once we eliminate the textbook publisher's restrictive, expensive package deals?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Werner Herzog Interprets Mike Mulligan

Pretty funny stuff if you're a fan of Mike or Werner. (via Daddytypes.com)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

An Apple in Every Classroom!

Edutopia is picking up the talk about Apple's big announcement this last week. Educators are weighing in on what this new device means to them. I was surprised at the negative comments, as I'm seeing a classroom tool that should be in every teacher's hands within a very short time. The reason? It's all about the apps. What the device can and can't do is outlined at WiredEducator, but here's the bottom line: the Ipad will be able to do anything you or some other clever person wants it to do. Just like the Iphone. Let's see, Grade Book, Class Roster, Plan Book, along with email and internet. That's while it's on the teacher's desk. Attach it to the Ipodium (or whatever the device turns out to be called) turn on the LED projector and it's good-bye interactive whiteboard. There is no way in the world those instant dinosaurs are going to keep up! If you know anyone in purchasing at any school or school district, tell them to save their money, sell what they have on Ebay and cut their losses today. Just check out what's available right now for the Iphone. That's available today, but once people get their hands on the Ipad, there will be a lot more.
I'm not usually a big tech fan when it comes to education. I think there are often too many bells and whistles and not enough basic skill transfer. The Ipad is not a way of educating, it's a tool for an educator, and as that, I think it will excel.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Who Killed the Wooden Train? (Part 2)

Those of you who remember the TV show Columbo remember that there was never any mystery about the crime - they showed the crime being committed in the first minutes of the show. The mystery was how Columbo would solve the puzzle. In that spirit, I am going to reveal the murderer of the wooden train right now!
Or at least I will very shortly. The important thing about the crime is not who did it, or why, or even when. The important thing is it was done. If I was to say that the wooden train died in early summer of 2007, you might guess that I'm blaming Thomas the Tank Engine (or more specifically his friend James the Red Engine) for the great train wreck. That's the day the victim died, but wrong on the date of the actual crime, as well as the how and the why, and most important, you would be blaming poor Thomas for his own murder! Thomas was hanging out with a bad crowd, and that led to his demise, but he didn't do himself in. Thomas, and the wooden trains he came to represent, are victims of a conspiracy! "I just had one more question" our friend Columbo would say "how can an over-hyped toy recall on a red engine kill a category of toys that defined childhood for generations?" We'll find out in part 3...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who Killed the Wooden Train? (Part 1)

Toys have their cycles. Pirates are popular, no-one wants pirates. We're in our 8th or 9th Dinosaur Age in 30 years. When you talk with someone about yo-yo sales, you find yourself fighting a mental battle not to say "they have their ups and downs". But throughout our 30 years, a constant has been wooden trains. Kids and wooden train sets seemed to arrive together in every American home. But not anymore.
In its first years, our little Golden Apple in San Ramon, made a bold decision to install a train table for the kids. Back then we were a Teacher's Store, with black reflective glass windows, in a warehouse behind another warehouse. Every now and then a brave parent would open our door and timidly ask if "anyone" could shop in our store. The magnetic allure of a wooden train table was so well known, we counted on it to send a welcoming message to parents.
We started with TC Timber, an American-made alternative to BRIO, the big name in wooden trains. We fought an uphill battle - every parent was familiar with the Swedish company BRIO, their quality was such a given that a BRIO set was considered a generational investment. The sets might cost twice what a comparable toy did, but educated customers knew the value, and the kids wanted a train! They didn't have faces, or even much detail, but the Scandinavian simplicity was part of the appeal. TC TImber's claim to having actually invented the product didn't help us break BRIO dominance of the market, but our train table was an instant hit, and put our store on the map, at least in the minds of boys (and a few girls). To be continued...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Sound of Gears, Shifting

I've been pretty quiet for the last 3 weeks - a combination of too much going on and nothing happening at all! The new year starts, and suddenly my mailbox is bursting with catalogs and new product sheets from my educational publishers. (There are lots of toy catalogs too, but I get to ignore them until February) For classroom teachers, there are new patterns, new cute designs and resources you never even knew you needed! Watch for them to arrive soon. Shifting from a December of toys to a January of education is always exciting... and exhausting.